It's around that time of the year where those of us in the collegiate setting have to sit down and write summer strength and conditioning programs for our athletes. This can often be a daunting feat but this article is geared towards making the process simpler so that no stone is left unturned and you can provide the best possible program for your athletes. This article is not about sets and reps so I don't plan on going into specifics about how much to do, but the goal is for you to have all your bases covered as you begin to put your summer program together.
The Summer Program
The summer strength and conditioning program is important to the development of the student-athlete. The summer is typically a time where an athlete can train without having to worry about an academic load which can often impact stress and recovery levels. This often allows them to train with a greater intensity and effort. The only other responsibility that the student-athlete may have is a summer job or internship, which still leaves time for training if they make the effort.
The summer program will be different depending upon the sport and their season. Programs for fall (football, soccer, volleyball, field hockey) sports should prepare them to get ready for pre-season as that is their most stressful time of the year. The program will include more specific conditioning as the summer progresses. Programs for winter sports (basketball, hockey, swimming, wrestling) can focus more time on developing strength, speed, and hypertrophy and power because their pre-seasons are when school is in session. Programs for spring sports (baseball, softball, lacrosse, rowing) can also focus on developing strength, speed, hypertrophy and power but has a non traditional season in the fall, so some specific conditioning needs to be added in as the summer progresses.
What do I do first?
The first step in developing your summer program is to find out when your athletes return to school and work backwards. This will give you starting date for your summer program, which is typically 12 weeks in length. If you are writing a program for a fall sport, check with the sport coach to see when they will arrive for pre-season in August.
You will also have to speak with the sport coach about specific conditioning tests and/or goals that they are looking for in their athletes. Some coach's will want their athletes to increase a certain percentage in their lifts or pass a conditioning test and your program must be designed so that these requirements can be attained. The sport coach may also want to include skill specific work into the program and that will have to implemented into the overall plan outline of the program.
Once you have your dates and calendar made up, you can now proceed into actually writing your program and deciding what exercises to choose and how you will split up the program.
Things to consider
As you begin to outline your program and think about how to organize it, there are some important things to consider. Most college athletes will be performing their workouts in commercial gyms, which may not have medicine ball wall to throw off of, nor may have sleds, resistive belts, slideboards, Olympic lifting platforms, and other things that are common to strength and conditioning facilities but not for the general fitness facilities. The program should be able to perform in any basic facility. You have to choose basic exercises, which every facility has access to:
3. Pull-up bar
That means there may not be as much variation as in the program as compared to the school year off-season program. The key to prevent boredom and getting stagnant is to change with variation. You can vary the implement, grip, limb involvement and stance to keep the movement the still change the exercise. For example, one phase you may do 1 Arm Cable Row's with your feet parallel, and then progress that to feet staggered and then to 1 Arm 1 Leg. The movement is still the same, but the exercise changes.
This allows you to keep your program fresh, but have some consistency.
Another thing to consider is to prescribe exercises that your athletes know how to perform. It is not a wise decision to include exercises that you're athletes have never performed without you. You want to include exercises that they are comfortable with and have experience with. This will minimize the chance that they can get hurt with poor technique with an unfamiliar exercise.
When writing the summer program for your upperclassmen, you also have to think about prescribing a routine for your incoming freshman. The key thing here is to keep things as simple as possible, which could mean no exercise variation and you only vary the loads and repetitions. Do not include technically challenging lifts, such as clean and or snatches. The last thing you want to do is overload your program and make it confusing to the point where the athlete won't even do the program.
Every athlete should be able to find a gym to train in the summer time. Many places offer 3 month specials specifically for college students. Most colleges also may allow other student-athletes from different schools to use their facilities during their slow hours of the day out of courtesy. If your student-athletes live near a college with a strength and conditioning program, give the head strength coach a call to see what their policy is and what their open hours are during the summer and if it's possible to let your athletes train there. Sometimes this is a good option because they'll be in a like minded training environment and have access to common equipment.
Once you've got your program written out and put together, you've got a couple options on how you can package it to your athletes. You can do it the old fashioned way and print off each athletes program individually (with their prescribed loads) and get them bound up at the print shop on campus or you can use newer forms of technology.
One easy way is to simply email the program (in excel or word) to your athletes. You can also create a CD-ROM or DVD that has all the exercise videos and program for the athlete to download right off the disc. This allows them to put their name and maxes into their sheet (if active with formulas) and allows them to directly print it out. Another option is to talk with your school's web development area and see if they would be able to create a strength and conditioning page and space on the server for your files.
The latter is not a very difficult project but time consuming on the front end. Having your own page can be extremely beneficial for your student-athletes, recruits and potential interns. You can put your programs on that page and give your athletes the password so they only have access to it, you can put all of your nutritional information that you give as well as exercise video clips that serve as reminders on how to perform certain exercises. Setting up a web page where you can update and upload files will make the process much easier in the long run and saves time, energy and paper.
The summers are a great time to make some gains in strength, speed and power and can really prepare athletes for their seasons. Be sure that you're providing the most efficient program and helping them to accomplish what they need to during this time period. Coach them to train hard, with good technique and this will carry over when they have to train on their own.